Clip: Elvis Costello takes Hammer to festival
Elvis Costello takes Hammer to festival
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Free Elvis Costello. That's an offer, incidentally, not a call to
arms. The renowned British singer will be performing in Golden Gate
Park for free -- to the chagrin of touts and delight of those who
couldn't find/afford tickets to his other two Bay Area performances
this year, with Allen Toussaint and the San Francisco Symphony.
It's an afternoon show, starting at 3 p.m. Friday with an opening set
from country greats Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock. Elvis plays
solo and with the Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods, an ad-hoc band he
describes as "very much in the spirit of the event." The event being
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The festival , now in its sixth year, has
expanded from two free days of music to three, featuring more than 60
acts on five stages.
"All I know about the festival is what I've been told by friends and
all of them sing its praises," Costello says by phone from Toronto,
where he's playing with Toussaint. "In fact, a lot of my pals are
playing -- T Bone (Burnett), Emmylou (Harris), Billy Bragg -- so I'm
going to be sticking around for the whole weekend to see all the great
people on the bill. All I can say is that whoever this gent is who's
paying for it, I take my hat off to him."
That gent is Warren Hellman, a San Francisco financier whose outside
obsessions include extreme sports, philanthropy and playing banjo. The
first festival, in 2001 (eight bands on two stages; sounds a bit
paltry now) gave him an excuse to present some of his favorite
performers, like Hazel Dickens and Harris. They've returned every year
since, along with others who've become almost regulars -- Steve Earle,
Del McCoury, Gillian Welch -- plus new additions from across the
spectrum of folk, country, Americana and singer-songwriters. Numbering
among them this time are Richard Thompson, North Mississippi Allstars
and Alejandro Escovedo, men not best known for their banjo licks.
Getting Costello to headline the inaugural Day 3 was quite a coup.
With one date left to go on his U.S. tour, he was looking forward to
going home with his wife, Diana Krall, to get ready for the twins
she's expecting in December.
"There's a lot to do, and my plan was to take a break from touring for
a long time, at least a year, because I want to be around for that.
Actually, I was thinking I might never go back. I might just stay at
home writing songs, or even maybe open a tobacconist's," he says,
What persuaded him to come back to the Bay Area was a close
relationship with the place that "goes back 30 years. It was the first
place I ever played in America -- in fact, the first night I ever
spent in America was in a HoJo in Mill Valley, because though we were
playing in San Francisco we couldn't afford a hotel there," he says.
"And it was the first place in America where they played me on the
radio. I remember doing long free-form shows with Bonnie Simmons on
KSAN, a great station, in the last few years of its existence. Since
then there've been so many shows in the Bay Area and I've made so many
friends there" -- four of whom are in the Hammer of the Honky-Tonk
Gods: Austin DeLone, Pete Thomas, Davey Faragher and Bill Kirchen,
whose new album was borrowed for the band's name.
"The name gives a real indication of what kind of show this will be.
It's very different. There's going to be a lot of spontaneity and a
lot of different people. At one point I think there'll be a string
band and around seven vocalists. Barring delayed planes and flat
tires, I hope there'll be some very special guests."
There's warmth in his voice when he says, "I'm really looking forward
to this festival. It sounds like a ball. And a great way for me to
sign off from playing concerts for a long time."